Home » Here’s Why The 2023 Toyota GR Corolla Circuit Edition Is A Four-Season Valedictorian

Here’s Why The 2023 Toyota GR Corolla Circuit Edition Is A Four-Season Valedictorian

Toyota Gr Coralla Review Top2
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We’ve all heard this story before: Some new performance car launches with so much drooling internet frenzy that people are booting up the configurator in Incognito Mode, but when that new car hits showrooms and dealers tack on five-figure markups or stupid garbage like dentless paint removal and chrome floor mats, the hype train derails faster than a CNN anchor on New Year’s Eve. We want to know if you can get a dealer to sell you a 2023 Toyota GR Corolla Circuit Edition at MSRP, and if you can – is it worth it? To find out, I borrowed one for a week of seriously mixed weather.

With mother nature leaving no stone unturned, I took this GR Corolla through snow, ice, fog, rain, thaw, the occasional bit of sun, and even turn five of the Toronto Indy street circuit. After all, someone has to do it, right?

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

[Full disclosure: Toyota Canada lent us this GR Corolla Circuit Edition for a week so long as we returned it with a full tank of premium fuel, kept the shiny side up, shot it, and reviewed it. As is customary, fuel was paid for by yours truly.]

2023 Toyota GR Corolla Circuit Edition front three quarters

Right off the rip, the GR Corolla looks like it’s trying to squeeze into a youth large T-shirt despite being 25 and hitting the gym five times a week. This thing’s 2.4 inches wider than a standard Corolla hatchback, and that’s all fender, baby. More than that, there’s a fantastically cartoonish sharpness to the cosmetic additions, like the stylists’ only instruments were chainsaws and machetes. I’m not just talking about the angular cut of the rear overfenders — check out those functional slots between the headlights and badge. The end result is a Corolla going Super Saiyan, giving three middle fingers at the same time to any notion of subtlety. It’s almost comical that this one’s specced in grey, because that’s like Randy Savage donning an Armani suit in an attempt at stealthiness.

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2023 Toyota GR Corolla Circuit Edition Roof

If you want to immediately distinguish a 2023 Circuit Edition from the more common Core trim, just look at the hood and the roof. Not only do functional louvers constantly remind you that this thing brings the ruckus, a forged carbon composite roof adds eye candy and one seriously practical benefit. Because this plastic’s less thermally conductive than steel, if the temperature’s not far below freezing, snow doesn’t seem to stick aggressively to the GR Corolla Circuit Edition’s roof. The Circuit Edition also adds a black spoiler to the hatch, although keen shoppers can spec that as a dealer-installed accessory on the basic GR Corolla, so sighting one won’t guarantee you’ve seen a Circuit Edition.

One Touch

2023 Toyota GR Corolla Circuit Edition Interior

Sport compacts can be tricky to polish, as they really are cases of stuffing five figures of go-fast bits in economy cars. For every one that’s well-appointed, there’s another that feels like a fast shitbox. In the art of transformation, touch points matter greatly, so Toyota’s changed every single one of them that has to do with driving. The sports steering wheel is shared with the GR Yaris, a posh-feeling three-spoke piece with thumb bolsters that are actually dialed back from the ones you get in the standard Corolla. Likewise, the sports seats are fantastic high-back units with excellent back support and bolsters that strike a likeble balance between roomy and restraining. This Circuit Edition trim of this manual-only hot hatch gets a special signed shift knob from the one-and-done stripped-out Morizo Edition, but all GR Corollas get a mechanical handbrake as opposed to the regular Corolla’s electronic affair. By the way, yanking that handbrake lever in motion kills torque to the rear diff, but only use that function in a responsible manner, mmkay?

2023 Toyota GR Corolla Circuit Edition Center Console

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The other unique thing inside the Toyota GR Corolla is the center console. Between the handbrake, the shifter, and an all-wheel-drive knob the size of a Beyblade, the standard Corolla console simply wouldn’t do the trick. However, this new console somewhat intrudes on rear center seat legroom, so ensure that whichever passenger draws the short straw is short themselves. Speaking of impracticality, due to the battery’s location in the trunk, usable space back there is pretty tiny. Sure, it’s good enough for a week of shopping, but make sure you can fit the pram in there if you’re looking at one of these as a family car.

Go beyond the immediate touchpoints, and this is still unmistakably a Corolla when it comes to luxury. Although well-appointed with a heated steering wheel and heated seats, the eight-speaker JBL stereo is so-so, and while the touchscreen infotainment system is leagues better than in Toyotas of old, it crashed several times on me during my week of testing. That’s mildly annoying, but it’s more than made up for by what lies beneath the GR Corolla’s swollen body.

The Heart Of The Matter

2023 Toyota GR Corolla Circuit Edition engine

Under the hood sits a 1.6-liter three-cylinder engine, which, according to math, doesn’t have as much displacement or as many cylinders as the two-liter four-cylinder engine in the standard Corolla hatchback. However, it’s been turbocharged to the moon and back, or as far as Toyota dared while still offering a warranty. The grand result? 100 horsepower per cylinder, which is impressive, and one exhaust tip per cylinder, which is hysterical. However, this 300-horsepower lump might just be the least interesting part of the car, partly because there’s so much more on offer here than just an engine and partly because the mill’s maximum potential could be expensive to truly exploit.

Sure, Toyota quotes a zero-to-60 mph time of 4.99 seconds, but in practice, nobody actually goes from zero-to-60 the same way professional test drivers do. Getting the best time out of an all-wheel-drive car usually requires a driver to build boost by repeatedly stomping on the throttle, then perform a hideously abusive launch that’s the mechanical equivalent of playing Russian roulette with five in the cylinder. Needless to say, this is more fun when you aren’t footing the bill for drivetrain components.

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2023 Toyota GR Corolla Circuit Edition gauge cluster

In the real world, the Toyota GR Corolla Circuit Edition is still a reasonably quick car, but acceleration from a roll isn’t at the head of the class, even when it’s on boost. For a minute, I thought something was wrong with my test car, until I looked at some numbers that put everything in perspective. In Car And Driver instrumented five-to-60 mph rolling start testing, a GR Corolla Circuit Edition clocked a time half a second slower than that of a manual Hyundai Elantra N. Huh, I guess this thing really is the reincarnation of the Subaru WRX STI.

That being said, short gear ratios make the GR Corolla easy to wind out without going to jail. Oh, and winding it out is espresso-buzz fun indeed. Plant the skinny pedal and Toyota’s unusual three-banger growls like an unusually pissed-off Pomeranian on the way to 7,000 rpm. Dip the clutch, reflect on the sound of a Hot Import Nights-loud pshhh as the turbo blows off steam, snatch a padlock-positive second with a light, deft flick of your fingertips, and start the fun all over again. There’s no rev hang worth noting here, only a characterful engine that does what you want so long as you keep it on the boil.

Eventually, you run out of gears to exploit in a legal manner, and downshifting might just be when this engine and gearbox combo is at its best. The engine’s rotating bits feel positively featherweight, and throttle response is linear enough that after five minutes behind the wheel, you’ll be able to glide down the ‘box in Blundstones like Ayrton Senna in loafers. Sure, you can turn on automatic rev matching, but the truth is, you’d never need to. Oh, and did I mention that we still haven’t reached the interesting part of the car yet?

Claws Out

2023 Toyota GR Corolla Circuit Edition side skirt

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Unlike most hot hatches, the Toyota GR Corolla is all-wheel-drive, and its makers know that an all-wheel-drive system is only as good as its differentials. Sure, many modern cars with open differentials use stability control to brake a spinning wheel, forcing torque to a new path of least resistance, but it simply doesn’t compare to the consistency, progressiveness, and outright durability of a proper limited-slip differential managing power across an axle. This thing has two. They might be helical units, which don’t work so well when one wheel is in the air, but somehow it’s hard to picture Sean Connery wearing a snapback and tearing ass through Vegas in a Japanese hatchback. Add in reasonably fresh Blizzaks and the ability to manually vary front-to-rear torque split on the fly, and the GR Corolla simply finds grip where it shouldn’t exist, like it keeps an emergency supply of traction in its wallet next to a spare Trojan and a ski pass. Freezing rain? Bring it on.

In the default 60:40 torque split, this hot hatch drives like a Subaru. Corner entry is best approached as if in a front-wheel-drive car, rotation is gradual, and steering inputs on corner exit are small. However, lock into 30:70 party mode, and things get really interesting. On a disgusting mixture of fallen frozen precipitation, the GR Corolla whips off its shirt and waves it around like a helicopter while going completely feral, goading you into proper powerslides and making you feel like you can indeed Gymkhana. You can neutralize understeer with extreme prejudice using just a stab of the accelerator even before the apex, a technique that’s a fever dream in most transverse all-wheel-drive cars, yet still rocket off the corner like it’s damp out, not snowing. There’s no question that this is among the best slippery surface all-wheel-drive systems of all time, right up there with Audi’s Mk1 Quattro with diff locks. It will make you feel like a golden god, so long as you know how to use it.

2023 Toyota GR Corolla Circuit Edition front three quarters

So, what happens when the snow all melts and you’re left with damp tarmac? Unsurprisingly, the GR Corolla’s prom night clutch on the road tightens, and you get a better sense of what this car is about. Although the steering usually communicates in T9-speak, you’ll certainly know when you’re making the front tires weary and steering weight is absolutely textbook stuff. The firm ride is damped with the utmost bubble-wrapped care, meaning that even the worst roads never result in occupants’ kidneys making eager introductions with their rib cages. Think flat body control without potholes feeling like landmines. The whole chassis package means the Toyota GR Corolla is effervescent in character yet never fatiguing. It’ll play fetch all day, yet still cozy up at your feet when the streetlights come on. Add in anchor-drop brakes with a beautifully progressive pedal and a unibody stiffer than Johnny Sins off a Cialis, and you get a total all-rounder, the whole hot hatch package.

Foibles? Perhaps a few, depending on what your priorities are. There’s a little bit of low-end boom going on, the tiny little boosted three-banger is, as you’d expect, très malcontente if you try to keep engine speed under 2,200 rpm up anything vaguely resembling an incline, and combined fuel economy of 24 MPG (9.8 L/100km) is rather unimpressive for such a small engine. However, the Hyundai Elantra N and Honda Civic Type R get about the same economy, so how much does that last point matter?

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So Here We Are

2023 Toyota GR Corolla Circuit Edition rear three-quarters

What Toyota’s made here is a four-season valedictorian, an ultimate all-rounder for snow, rain, tarmac, gravel, twisting roads, highway slogs, city bustle, and everything in between. If you’re looking for the precise midpoint between a Hyundai Elantra N and a Volkswagen Golf R, the Toyota GR Corolla Circuit Edition is it. It’s exciting without being stuck in a permanent kegstand, pragmatic without any chance of being forgettable, and undeniably special. It may cost $43,995 in America and $55,750 in Canada (going up to $46,235 in America and $58,710 in Canada for 2024), but it might just be worth it.

The Toyota GR Corolla Circuit Edition is nerdy, planted, mischievous, physically and cerebrally fun, and it always gently whispers to you about where it came from. Instead of hitting you over the head with unbridled machismo, it lulls you into thinking that despite the firm ride, strong price tag, and mildly disappointing real-world acceleration, maybe it’s just comfortable enough, just practical enough, and just well-enough equipped that the important people in your life will still like it. Some fiery sport compacts are id on wheels. This one’s designed to be rationalized.

2023 Toyota GR Corolla Circuit Edition front wheel

2023 Toyota GR Corolla Circuit Edition front seats

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2023 Toyota GR Corolla Circuit Edition Profile

hood vent

(Photo credits: Thomas Hundal)

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Paul Kett
Paul Kett
21 days ago

I’m thinking if you buy one mentally prepare for it to be stolen in the first week.

Ted Schwartz
Ted Schwartz
21 days ago

I want one. My only quibble being that Toyota chose to not offer a plethora of interesting colors for this car. If any modern car needs to be in something other than black, white, or grey, it’s this one.

Frederik Doerr
Frederik Doerr
21 days ago

Maybe it’s a sign of the times we’re in right now, but somehow $43,995 for that car sounds… reasonable. Especially compared to some of MSRP of Euro-4WD-Compact cars, such as an RS3. That Audi starts well in the mid 60.000 Euro range, so paying 45.000 Dollars seems like quite the deal to me.

VanGuy
VanGuy
22 days ago

Thomas, I’m not the target market for these at all.
I appreciate them being small cars (especially with the recent article reminding us that high hoods are bad).
I appreciate them offering the intangibles of “performance” and “handling” that I’ve never really experienced personally.
But you still managed to keep this interesting for me and I got a good laugh out of “unibody stiffer than Johnny Sins off a Cialis”.

Mrbrown89
Mrbrown89
22 days ago

What a great review, Toyota has done what others did before but they stopped somehow. Everything is getting more artificial in a way of you get disconnected from the vehicle, yes you may go faster in a VW Golf R or an EV but where is the real feedback for the driver? I would rather have a car one second slower than the competition but without the gimmicks that they keep adding nowadays, a future classic for sure.

Harvey Park
Harvey Park
22 days ago

Dang, Thomas really likes this one.

Freelivin1327
Freelivin1327
22 days ago

Chainsaws and machetes?
Torchinsky must be at it again…

Morgan van Humbeck
Morgan van Humbeck
22 days ago

It drove me crazy that the Morizo edition didn’t have rear seats.Toyota has seen fit to produce balm for my suffering heart

Daniel MacDonald
Daniel MacDonald
22 days ago

Gah I want one of these so bad-especially as Subaru has let the WRX rot on the vine. It does seem spendy though and maybe that’s everything these days but at $40K for the Premium (are you really not going to get the LSDs?) for what is just a Corolla when you’re not tearing up back roads is a tough pill to swallow-not least because imo the Corolla may have the worst interior in its class.

Also, who is the target market for the styling add-ons, kinda rallycar cool but imo a bit much for this 39 year old, I’d feel slightly silly getting out of this car-but the 20 year olds who might think all the bulges and triple exhaust and hood vents are cool probably can’t afford it let alone pay for insurance. Ford did a much better job with the Focus RS imo but that was also a better looking car in its basic form.

Guess if I get one I’ll be buying in black. At the end of the day I still don’t see anyone currently making a better all around performance daily driver for those of us who live in Northern states.

Nsane In The MembraNe
Nsane In The MembraNe
22 days ago

My concern with these is the cooling. They’re fun, and if you want a riotous all weather daily at a semi reasonable price they’re damn hard to argue with. Obviously I’m partial to ‘em, as I’ve mentioned a few times I’d started the process to get one before I wound up in my Kona N. I’m certainly going to double back and drive one at some point, especially now that hype has died down a bit and the fact that there’s an interesting automatic option on the way.

That being said, the first batch of them has not held up to track work well at all. Folks are having issues with the differentials overheating after only a few laps and I’ve heard of engines overheating as well. If you’re not planning on tracking one or driving it at 10/10ths (shhh I won’t tell if it’s on a deserted public road) then it’s not a big deal, but if you are it’s something to keep in mind, especially since Toyota has leaned so hard into advertising this as a track car.

The other thing to worry about is sitting in Honda showrooms. I’m not sure if you can get them at MSRP yet, but the Civic Type R pretty much eats these alive in most performance measures. To be fair, it’s a ful $5-7,000 more than a Core model with the diffs, and I’d imagine a lot of these will be stretch purchases for young folks pretty early along in their careers…but once you get up to the Circuit? Hmmm. I’d have a hard time choosing it over a CTR.

If AWD is an absolute must for you then the GRC is far and away the best move. But if it isn’t then there’s some stiff competition a little above it price wise and the Elantra N furiously punching up. My conclusion is mainly that I’m happy that this particular segment is so alive and well. Long live the hot hatch!

Last edited 22 days ago by Nsane In The MembraNe
Daniel MacDonald
Daniel MacDonald
22 days ago

I am one of those AWD fans lol, I live in the PNW and it rains here like 8 months out of the year and AWD really adds a measure of security when burning up the back roads. Otherwise I agree with your assessment-I’ve always wished Honda had gotten into exploring performance AWD it seems like the Type R is a better car in nearly every other objective and subjective metric. Plus I don’t believe I’ve read any complaints about the previous CTR and track day reliability problems.

Nsane In The MembraNe
Nsane In The MembraNe
22 days ago

I mean, there’s the TLX Type S which has their sweet SH-AWD system. Unfortunately you’re stuck with a pretty bleh version of Honda/Acuras 10 speed auto and it’s more expensive, but it apparently handles really well. I think they’re going to make great used buys in the 40s though.

MegaVan
MegaVan
22 days ago

The 2040’s? Or the $40k’s?

Nsane In The MembraNe
Nsane In The MembraNe
22 days ago
Reply to  MegaVan

40ks. At the 55kish they run new they’re a tough sell.

Daniel MacDonald
Daniel MacDonald
22 days ago

Sadly (though this is based mostly on reviews) I don’t think Acura has ever really put their SH-AWD system in something that’s a true sports sedan even though as a system it gets great reviews. IF they’d offered it in the TSX I’d be very tempted, but the TLX is too big for my tastes.

Nsane In The MembraNe
Nsane In The MembraNe
22 days ago

Yeah and the Type S is a porker to boot. Weighs in at around 4200 pounds…which is a casual 1,000 pounds more than the Integra Type S that’s in the same showroom.

Daniel MacDonald
Daniel MacDonald
21 days ago

Wow I wouldn’t have thought it was that heavy, yeah that’s a no from me lol I already have a porky awd DD I’m trying to get out of-’08 Cayenne

Cerberus
Cerberus
22 days ago

I would posit that part of its superiority might very well be down to not being AWD. For its traction limitations in some conditions, it’s not perpetually contending with the extra weight and drivetrain drag. It also doesn’t suffer from having that extra expense which would require cost cutting elsewhere to get down to the desired price. Those extra components require more cooling and are another failure point and common components can break more readily, like the transmission that’s under greater stress because it can’t bleed off excess power through wheel spin, but has to absorb it within itself.

Daniel MacDonald
Daniel MacDonald
21 days ago
Reply to  Cerberus

Hmm that is an interesting point, very likely some truth to that. Though I will point out there are some pretty reliable performance AWD out there, not least Honda/Acura’s own SH-AWD but that would’ve likely been out of scope for this car and has never been part of my Honda’s performance brand. I was more being wistful in that I wish Honda was into doing performance AWD cars as their stuff is typically better driver oriented than Toyota or Subaru.

Cerberus
Cerberus
21 days ago

I do get why some people like the sure-footed competent feel of good AWD even setting aside the concerns of weather conditions, but IME, there is a loss in eagerness in response. It’s probably more feel than anything, but feel is what I look for over anything else. For a fun car, pretty much everyone loves RWD, but for moderately powered cars (<~300 hp), I think good FWD is really underrated and AWD overrated, so I try to stuff in a defense when I think it fits. With the CTR, I think there’s a price argument in terms of value-for-dollar that would be better met (at least on paper) by AWD, and it’s certainly not a cheap car for what it is, so I get that, but I also think Honda might have chosen FWD for feel as much as cost (of course I could be completely wrong). Good thing is, Toyota has the AWD people covered. I wish there were even more competitors, plus some in the warm hatch category, like where the Focus ST sat, where AWD would likely bump the price too high.

Daniel MacDonald
Daniel MacDonald
21 days ago
Reply to  Cerberus

Generally agreed, awd can dull the feel and less responsive-and sometimes a little unpredictable when pushed as well. Certainly doesn’t have the feel of a good RWD. And I do think you have a point that a good FWD can have a little more playfulness/edge to it than AWD.

It’s hard to say with the CTR what Honda is thinking, I’d argue they have a strong brand heritage argument for sticking with FWD though they gave up having a high-winding NA engine which was a trademark for along time too. To be honest I haven’t driven any modern hi-po FWD cars, I’ve owned two FWD Mazdas that had decent HP for their time and both were fun but also left me unable to picture them being drivable with another 100 hp and the one all out fwd car I driven was an ’04 VW Jetta GLI which was a riot but also had crazy torque steer that left it feeling like a fwd muscle car nm the reviews I have read of the Mazdaspeed 3 and Focus ST that they’re overpowered torque steering monsters. However noone says this about the CTR or GTi so I’d be happy to be proven wrong.

Honestly for my budget if Honda had figured out another 20-30 HP out of the Si and especially if they also offered it as a hatch I’d be really tempted. Currently trying to decide if I should sell both my rolling german projects and consolidate into one newer and more practical but still fun car so this is very much on my radar.

Cerberus
Cerberus
21 days ago

I test drove a 1st gen Mazdaspeed3 and had a Focus ST for 180k miles after reading the same reviews and expected both of them to be handfuls (also read the ST had terrible ride as a daily, but it didn’t feel much stiffer than the standard Focus I had before. Seat bottom was awful, but that isn’t the chassis and was easy enough to remove the cover and do some work on the cushioning). I have no idea what any of those reviewers are talking about. I’m no weight lifter, but one would have to be really weak, driving without hands on the wheel, or doing something completely stupid to complain about any kind of appreciable torque steer and none of them approach the kind of thing you could find in decades old cars that had laggy turbos that kicked in hard with skinny, old tech tires. Only time the ST did it enough to want two hands on the wheel to control it was when I purposely floored it as a test on rutted, patchy road, which is dumb and something that would cause any kind of vehicle to go all over the place. The Mazdaspeed, I cranked the wheel to full lock and floored it (something I would never do normally, especially having lived through the days of consumable CV joints) and all it did was not self-center and it wasn’t difficult to guide the wheels where you wanted (it did ride pretty stiff, though, considering I would sometimes have to travel washed out fire roads and stuff for work). That’s really the extent of any of these non-event torque steer situations in daily use: a slight increase in steering weight and lessening of the self-centering effect. Even in snow with 270 lbs/ft at low rpm, where I expected it to require careful throttle, I had no issue at all with snow tires. Unless someone just mashed the throttle, you’d almost never know it wasn’t the standard Focus and I only drove with all nannies off (the biggest improvement of the ST over the SE for me was being able to kill stability control. With it on, the thing would plow no matter what, even though you could feel the back end wanting to play. Off, it was controllable fun and—ironically—safer.)

Totally with you on the Si. If it had the 2.0T from the Accord and a hatch, that would have been my pick, though it would depend on pricing. As it was, I looked at a regular hatch with a manual and the cheapest one I could price out was more than the GR86 (not counting any markups, which I didn’t have to pay for the Toyota, though I got lucky).

Daniel MacDonald
Daniel MacDonald
21 days ago
Reply to  Cerberus

Super good to know! I’ve actually been thinking I should look at a low mileage Speed3 (I’ve previously had an ’04 Mazda 3s hatch, and an ’89 626 Turbo so I’m a big Mazda fan) or Focus ST since they’re easier to find. Love the idea of a Fiesta ST-but I’m afraid it’s likely too small for me at 6’4″-Mazdaspeed 3 has a lot of appeal in spite of the weird styling as even the base car is fantastic and unlike the ST twins it came with an actual limited slip diff. GTi is always tempting but as a former Audi owner I’m pretty gun shy about used Audi/VW products.

Did you wind up buying a GR86?? It’s really tempting to sell both my cars say fuck it this may be my last chance to buy a fun ICE sports car and go in a little over my head on it financially to get one. Still need to try to see if I can cop a test drive.

Cerberus
Cerberus
21 days ago

Yeah, the ST blew up. The only thing I had to do to it for 180k was fix a coolant leak at the firewall (common problem, cheap fix, but kind of a PITA to do with the stupid weird fittings Ford uses) and the EGR valve recall twice at 75k and 150k (I replaced it myself as it was only $50 and 20 minutes or so to replace), which just made it hesitate a little off the line. Recall said it could cause stalling, but mine was just a slight annoyance. Did the plugs at the same time. Never any catch cans or walnut blasting the valves or any such nonsense and never any indication it could use it.

Problem: it had always used a (very) little bit of coolant, but since my SE also did and was dead reliable and needed no maintenance for over 200k when it was totaled, I figured it was an odd quirk of the Duratec. Then I went to start it one morning and I got a Spy Hunter smokescreen out the back (thankfully, I didn’t park in the garage that night!). When it warmed up, that settled to about the amount of exhaust you’d expect on a cold day on a cold start (that smelled terrible). Anyway, turned out there’s a defect in the closed deck 4-cyl. Ecoboosts that over time can allow coolant into cylinders 2 and/or 3 and Ford’s fix is engine replacement. There’s a TSB (and class action suits) for it. Though the ST isn’t specifically listed, it’s for all displacements and other applications that share the block and head. The problem might have been fixed in 2017 or 18, but don’t quote me on that. Sucks because that car otherwise felt like it only had 50k on it, but my days doing engine swaps are over and nobody else would take the job. Anyway, they’re great cars, but look out for that somehow. I’m not really sure how you know unless it’s blown, but maybe there are answers out there. Mazdaspeeds had some problems, too, but since I just kept my regular 2.3 hatch, I haven’t followed what they were (besides rust, probably, as my regular one rusted like it was 1983).

Lucky timing for me, right after the ST blew (though it technically still drove fine and didn’t even overheat), the GR86 came out and I loved the new style and the power and figured it was my last chance to buy a classic kind of sports car, plus manuals and cars without a bunch of dumb BS are rare as it is and I’d have bought it for those two reasons alone (though they added the damn Eyesight to the manual ’24s). Ordered it as soon as the books opened and—to my shock—it came in about a month later. Love the car and, since the rear seats fold down, it’s been far more practical than I expected. Not something to use often for people, but it can carry a lot more crap than it would seem and I was able to adapt the 1st gen hidden hitch for it so I can transport bikes. With the 17s, it even rides pretty nice. Stiff, of course, but not at all gut-punchy and it almost glides over patchy plow-damaged roads. I’ve been really impressed. In snow, it’s been great, as well, and I got taller sidewall snows to gain about 22mm ground clearance. It’s not a modern performance car and anyone expecting that will likely be disappointed. It’s closer to a modern take on a vintage sports car experience in terms of communication and playfulness at reasonable speeds, plus some quirks. Long journeys can get more tiring than normal cars, but it makes even BS daily driving more enjoyable. Stock clutch was terrible, but fixed with a change of the pedal spring and the base stock tires were horrible. That’s probably way more than you wanted to read!

Daniel MacDonald
Daniel MacDonald
20 days ago
Reply to  Cerberus

Not at all it’s good insight on two cars I’m considering!

I had read that about the ecoboost 4’s now that you mention it; I briefly investigated the Ford Fusion ST but that’s the 2.3 so hoped maybe with the 2.0 it didn’t apply to the Focus ST. For my money that’s too much of a potential time bomb when the lowest miles I’m seeing are around 60K. From what I read about the problem in the Fusion your experience is pretty typical e.g. it’s fine up until it’s not-and a lot of folks don’t get nearly the miles out of theirs that you did.

Your description of the GR86 is exactly what I’d want if I was going to get a RWD coupe, a classic sports car experience but with new car reliability. I love my project 1983 BMW 533i but am realizing without a garage to wrench on and protect it from the elements it just doesn’t make sense to keep it long term and honestly the GR86 in some ways seems closer to the spirit of an ’80s BMW than anything they’ve made themselves in the last decade. I’d love to buy an early ’00s M3 or even 911but worried that even though roughly the same purchase price as a GR86 that the maintenance costs will bury me if I actually drove them somewhat regularly-especially the 911. My ’08 Cayenne DD has left both wanting a “real” Porsche more than ever and even more scared/realistic about the maintenance potential. And with the GR86 I could get 8/10 maybe even 9/10 the involvement and fun of those two without constant worries that a $2000 visit to the mechanic lurked behind my next visit to redline.

Cerberus
Cerberus
20 days ago

Not everyone appreciates how I can go on! Not familiar with the Fusion ST, but I thought the 2.3 was an open deck block. Still might have its issues, though, IDK anything about them.

I had two S30 Zs and the GR reminds me of those in spirit, but less vintage. I’d say it’s closer to something ’80s-’90s in feel, which is better IMO (Zs had poor steering and brake feel). A lot of Porsche guys have bought them as dailies or track rats because a decent number have said they’re 85% or so of the fun for much cheaper. One guy even says he likes it a lot better than his Cayman or Boxster, I forget which. I never drove either, so I couldn’t say. I use it as a daily and I average right around 30 mpg in mixed driving. I had been thinking to keep the Camry beater I bought in between, but sold it off when I realized this car handled daily routines like a normal car (albeit low and small) and life is too short for the Camry.

Also, I ate a new WRX that had some kind of obnoxious exhaust with it, so while it’s not a rocket, it’s not slow. A little less torque than I’d like, but I’m a torque guy and I wouldn’t go so far as to say it feels weak. What I like is that it’s so useable. I have no interest in the super fast cars I can’t even touch the performance of. This is like the old cars where you can wind them out in a few gears and only be in ticket territory instead of the arrest or imminent death zone. And the tires are modest, so it can slide around a bit and it tells you what it will do, while pulling far more gs than I’d expect from HPAS 215s. Only other minor annoyances are: throttle calibration is too front loaded so the last 1/3 or so of travel does nothing, can’t have the normal gauge display in nanny off mode, gearing—at the very least top gear—is a little short (6th is the same as 5th was in my ’83 Subaru GL with 1/3 the power) and the e-steering has good feel for e-steering. It doesn’t match a good hydraulic setup, but that’s where we are with modern cars. It’s also simple and has that simple feel, like you’re operating a mechanical machine that can be repaired and maintained instead of a disposable electronic lump. Not sure if I explained that well, but it’s one of the things I like most about older cars.

Daniel MacDonald
Daniel MacDonald
18 days ago
Reply to  Cerberus

You’re preaching to the choir with that last part lol-it’s why I have the ’83 BMW, it just feels alive and mechanical. A friend who had a ’89 RX7 turbo told me the GT86 reminded him of his RX7 which is a pretty high compliment imo.

And agreed-slowish car fast is really underrated these days. I honestly don’t know where anyone is utilizing the power of modern 400hp + performance cars besides brief pulls on the freeway. Typical back road 200-300 hp is plenty. I mean looking back based purely on magazine acceleration tests as a benchmark the GR86 is as fast or faster than a whole lot of serious performance machinery-including nearly every NA 911 up until the ’90s and no one is complaining about how slow those are-even now. Anyways-thanks for the advice now I really need to go try to talk a dealer into a test drive

Cerberus
Cerberus
17 days ago

I think the complaints stem from a few things: ridiculous expectations and misunderstanding of what a sports car is vs a performance car (especially from young guys who have only driven new stuff and probably never even knew of an actual sports car besides the Miata—though the ’86 would possibly qualify more as a GT in the old days, I think these things are somewhat relative), jaded from cars that are insanely quick, and the way the power is delivered. One of the many reasons I’m a torque-over-rpm guy is the way the former feels faster than it is while the latter feels slower. The GR86 isn’t torque-deficient enough to be all high rpm power, but it doesn’t have a slug of low end torque like a torque-heavy engine and there’s only decent mid range. There is also still a little of that infamous torque dip from the 1st gen, though around 3500-4k or so. It’s not terrible, but it’s there and sometimes right where I would normally drop down a gear into. I’ve learned to drop down 2 gears instead.

I’ve never understood the obsession with absurd power. Anything better than 10 lbs/hp—which is pretty damn good—is too rarely usable for anyone who doesn’t live on a racetrack or some kind of magic land and/or are sociopaths who don’t care who they endanger. When I was in the 4th grade and a bit of a dumbass, I won a raffle for a gocart. I had dreams of driving it to school and stuff, then I got it and, of course, I found out it wasn’t street legal and neither was I and the annoying reality of my parents having to take the seats out of the minivan and needing a second vehicle to haul friends and to have the free time to bring me somewhere that we’d get kicked out from after a few hours at best set in. I feel like a lot of these big power people are like a 4th grade me that somehow clung to the fantasy even after getting the gocart. The opportunities to deploy all this power are fewer and I don’t even know how they handle it. I know they all think they’re superstars because they could get approved for a loan, but with minimal to no opportunities to use big power, there’s no chance of becoming accustomed to it enough for comfort (if that could ever even exist with some of the vehicles today), which is all the more important to be able to do with ever reduced margin of error. Unless they just don’t use it, in which case, I don’t get the point except for insecure people who think they’re impressing young kids at car shows. At that point, they might as well just make something up. I’ll be looking at the vintage stuff, so I won’t be there to call them out.

PL71 Enthusiast
PL71 Enthusiast
22 days ago

I didn’t know about the awd clutch pack cooling issues. Looked into it and seems like a very foreseeable issue and kind of embarrassing. This is why it’s important to have real differentials like a Soobie or Audi!

Nsane In The MembraNe
Nsane In The MembraNe
22 days ago

Yeah, it’s been a big deal. I think people are scared to talk about it because this car was anointed the savior of hot hatches well before it even hit the road and JDM bros are not always the most…well, pleasant or reasonable people.

But it’s a glaring flaw with the car and like I said in my OG comment….if you’re going to make a huge deal about the car’s track ability you should have it ready to go to the track out of the box. Fucking Hyundai of all people can manage it so it shouldn’t be THAT hard.

PL71 Enthusiast
PL71 Enthusiast
21 days ago

It’s not even their first time doing something like this!

The GR86 has the very well known oiling issues on track.

Don’t worry though Toyota can do no wrong.

Daniel MacDonald
Daniel MacDonald
20 days ago

Well it is a Subaru engine-arguably the GR86’s greatest flaw.

Mechjaz
Mechjaz
22 days ago

Novel, tortured similies are an absolute staple of automotive journalism and car reviews. You’re carrying the torch (like, the Olympic one, not…nevermind) wonderfully. Reviews like this, both in terms of style and tone, make me wish I had millions of American funbucks to just lavish upon configurator after configurator.

Which, by the way, I do open in private tabs. I don’t want them changing the price because they saw an FCP Euro cookie or whatever.

Spartanjohn113
Spartanjohn113
22 days ago

Beyblade you say? Let ‘er rip!

On a slightly more on-topic note, this car has been on my radar since the beginning, and became truly cemented in my heart with Fancy Kristen Lee’s incredible headline (and write-up), “I Have Met God and It Is the 2023 Toyota GR Corolla.”
I’m not sure I can justify or ever afford dropping $46k on a Corrola but if this becomes the collector’s item I think it will, how can you afford not to?

Morgan van Humbeck
Morgan van Humbeck
22 days ago
Reply to  Spartanjohn113

It’s bound to go up in value! You’d be stupid not to buy it. You’re essentially being laid to drive the sickest car around. Do it do it do it!!

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